Autumn Seasonals Option Sellers can Capitalize on Now
Michael: Hello, everyone. This is Michael Gross at OptionSellers.com. We are here with your monthly podcast for August 25th, 2017. I’m here with James Cordier. James, welcome to the show.
James: Thank you, Michael. I’m always glad to be here and share our knowledge and wisdom.
Michael: Excellent. Well, we are here in the last week of August and we are heading into Labor Day weekend and right around the corner is, of course, September. A lot of people come back from vacation, a lot of traders come back into the fold, and often times we find out where we really stand in a lot of markets that may have drifted one way or the other during the summer. Right now, as we look at stocks, kind of off a little bit. From the beginning of August we’re down, although up a little bit early in the week here at time of recording. We’ve had a little push downwards and, James, I know you addressed this in your bi-monthly address to clients on video, but do you want to talk a little bit about what might be going on right now in equities?
James: Yes, Michael. The equities market, as everyone knows, has been hitting all-time highs throughout the first 6 months or so of the year; however, just recently, a bit of a speed bump with just absolute chaotic times right now in Washington D.C. A lot of the Trump ideas that helped get him elected, which propelled the stock market recently, are in question. Tax relief and de-regulation and 0% interest rates all might be influx right now, and, certainly, a lot of the reasons why people were buying stocks over the last several months were these very business-friendly ideas. I wouldn’t say that they’re gone and out for sure, but certainly they’ve taken a back seat to just simply getting Washington squared away. Hopefully these ideas will come back because they definitely are business friendly. While we’re not in the stock market, we certainly do root it on, because I’m sure a lot of our listeners and a lot of our clients do have stock holdings, so we’re always rooting for it. It has taken a little pause here for certain reasons, and a lot of them are some of the goings-on right now in Washington D.C. Hopefully it’ll get straightened out before too long.
Michael: Yes, obviously this market is still in a bull market. There has been no bottom falling out and there may still be some reasons to buy the stock market. Just some interesting stats I saw was that as of earlier in the week here, on the whole year the S&P was up about 9%- not too bad, but certainly off the highs. Interesting note, James, the Russell was even on the year- no gain at all.
James: Right. I noticed that, and a lot of the ideas of deregulation and, you know, lower taxation, that should be helping the small caps. The Russell being basically even on the year really does bring into the question is “How broad is this rally?” Certainly, the Dow Jones, basically we cherry-pick 30 stocks and the ones we like we put in there and the ones we don’t like we take out. Certainly, the Dow Jones has done extremely well, but some of the larger gauges of the stock market, like you said, are unchanged or up a percent for the year, and I think that was an eye opener to a lot of investors that saw that in the news here recently. I know it was to me, as well.
Michael: Well, I’m just glad, James, that you and I don’t have to forecast the stock market because that’s certainly too many moving parts there for me. I know you feel the same way.
James: Likewise. I really enjoy investing our client’s money and talking to our listeners today based on fundamentals of 10 commodities that have been around here forever and will likely be consumed for years and years to come.
Michael: On that note, why don’t we talk about something we do know quite a bit about and that would be autumn seasonals, which is the topic of our podcast this month. We’re going to talk about a couple commodities here that we do study very closely and maybe do have some insights into. As far as talking about seasonals to begin with, if you’re a listener or have been listening to us for a long time or you read our book, you’re certainly aware of seasonal price tendencies in commodities. It is something that we follow very closely. They are not the buy-all and end-all of price forecasting, but they can certainly be a very big factor and something that can help you tremendously as an option seller. James, I know we were talking quite a bit about grain seasonals this summer and how they often sell off into the fall. Lo and behold, that seems to be exactly what happened across the board.
James: Boy, it really is. Grain stockpiles around the world are at extremely ample levels. We did have quite a weather rally in the month of July and, Michael, it always seems to be too hot or too wet or too cold or something, then the market rallies. Come fall season, generally, some of the greatest producers of the world of grains are here in the United States and, lo and behold, we’re going to have quite a bit of a bumper crop in corn, wheat, and soybeans. When you add that to carry-overs from all the other production in the world, lo and behold, prices come back down to earth and they’re doing again this year. We’re not even through August yet and we’re making quite a push to seasonal lows here probably over the next 30 days. We have corn, wheat, and soybeans testing 12-month lows. It wasn’t that long ago, just a month ago, they were testing 12-month highs. Certainly, there’s a bit of a whipsaw action this year, like most years, and as we get into September and October we think prices will probably be quite heavy because of seasonal factors.
Michael: Yeah, the seasonal tendency is not always perfect, as you and I know. At the same time, grains this year seem to follow it to a tee. They start declining oftentimes into harvest, the market starts anticipating that harvest, starts anticipating that excess supply coming on the market, and prices tend to start going. That’s exactly what they’ve done this year, especially now that we’re past the pivotal parts of potting and pollination in corn and soybeans. So, it’s just an example. If you’re listening at home and following grains, this is an example of what seasonals can do and how they can help. It’s not always perfect, but it certainly can help. That’s what we’re going to talk about now as we come into autumn. It’s a key time of year for a lot of commodity seasonals. The seasons are changing, there’s a lot of things going on fundamentally, and the first market we’re going to talk about of course, James, is one of your favorite markets, which is the crude oil market. This is the key time of year for crude oil, as well. Maybe you want to talk a little bit about the seasonal there and what tends to happen this time of year?
James: You know, Michael, you mentioned something really interesting. The seasonals aren’t the end-all to commodity trading; however, it certainly is a tool that we enjoy using. It’s not spot on every year, but what we like to do, as you know, is we gauge the fundamentals going into a seasonal time frame. If they coincide with the seasonal factors, that is certainly something we like getting involved with. The energy market coming up again is one of these. As you know, Libya, Nigeria, and west Texas are producing some 20-30% above what they were expected to produce as far as reference to oil production. If you take west Texas, Libyan and Nigerian extra barrels that they are now producing in excess of what people were expecting, it is going to come extremely close to what the OPEC production cuts were. So, Michael, if you look at it that way, the production cuts that were creating quite a bull stare in the market this summer, that seems to be coming to an end based on the fact that production is going to equal out with the extra barrels coming from those other locations.
Michael: The media really hit that hard and talked about the OPEC cuts and the bulls came out of the woodwork. It didn’t seem to have much of an effect, and now you’re saying that it may have no effect on supply whatsoever, being made up elsewhere. So, as we head into fall, we’ve already taken away one of those big bullish bullets, so to speak, is what they were hanging their hat on. If we look at a seasonal chart, which if you are getting the upcoming newsletter we do have this featured prominently in there, but James, we see crude oil going into the 5-year seasonal average here, and it tends to start falling pretty dramatically in September. Now, we talked about fundamentals and underlying fundamentals driving the seasonal, but what are the fundamentals that tend to happen this year that tend to cause that price decline?
James: Michael, that’s a really good question, and a lot of our listeners and clients probably have the same question. It’s basically we are looking at a balanced to over-balanced oil market; however, in the months in June, July, and August, the United States, which is the largest consumer of energy in the world, heads out for driving. It is driving season and if you think that that’s just a saying, it truly does matter. When you have some 300 million people that have vacation ideas versus stay-home ideas, that makes an enormous difference to the consumption of gasoline in the United States. In July and the first half of August, the United States set all-time records for consumption of gasoline. That is what has propelled the market here for the last 4-8 weeks that got us out of the 40’s. It got us up to $50 a barrel in crude oil. However, the magic is, starting in September and then October, all those driving ideas and all those vacations are now pictures in albums, or should I say pictures in people’s Apple iPhones. People are sitting at home and they’re digging in for school and fall, and that makes a huge difference. We think that seasonal is setting up practically perfectly again this year.
Michael: So, you’re somewhat bearish as we head into fall, here. I know you’re going to be doing an interview with Bloomberg in New York next week in-studio, and you’ll probably be talking about at least partially about the crude oil market, so this is something that our listeners want to hear now is to not only what we think it’s going to do but why we think it’s going to do it. You’ve already covered a couple aspects of that. Let’s just talk about supply here briefly. We’ve talked about the seasonal, we’ve talked about OPEC, which is kind of a non-factor right now in your opinion. What about U.S. supply? What are we looking at there?
James: The U.S. supply usually comes down during these large driving season months, and it has done that. We are some 3-4% below all-time record levels that we had earlier this year and late in 2016. So, the supplies have come down. Generally, that’s a very seasonal pattern. We’re not producing any extra oil or gasoline during the summer months. It basically stays pretty constant throughout the year. The seasonal factor then is the less driving that happens in September, October, and November – they call it the shoulder season. Basically, it’s after driving season and before winter hits. That is when the U.S. supplies will start increasing again and whether they hit a new time record this fall, or not, we’re going to be pushing at levels that is way more than what the U.S. needs. Of course, you have OPEC nations that will likely be scrambling and probably fudging a bit on the compliance with their production cuts that a lot of people talked about. What’s so important to know about oil is a lot of these countries, OPEC nations in particular, they have a specific amount of income that they need from their oil production. When oil is sitting at $50, it is pretty constant; however, if we start getting in down to 42, 40, possibly below 40 later this fall, they’re still needing the same amount of income from oil production. That is where it could get a little bit of a slippery slope for oil prices this fall when countries like Iran, Nigeria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia need to produce a certain income for their country and for their needs, and yet oil might be at 10-15% below the price. Then, the barrels start to flow and that’s what’s going to get probably interesting here on the downside here in the months of October and November.
Michael: James, that’s a great point. You talked about OPEC and addressed it earlier that OPEC’s potentially cheating. A figure I know that we discussed a few weeks back was although OPEC is still “supposedly” under the restraints of the cuts, exports of oil out of OPEC nations hit a record in July- 26.11 million barrels a day. So, maybe they’re pumping a little bit less, but they certainly haven’t stopped selling it any more slowly, have they?
James: Well, Michael, that’s the exact thing. Certainly their storage facilities and producing nations, as well, not just here in the United States, and that’s basically a way to get around the quota. They’re keeping oil flowing through export channels and, yes, lightly reducing production; however, what does that mean? That means the world is supplied, in some cases over-supplied, with oil. It’s interesting, later this fall and early this winter we could have millions of barrels more than what the world needs. Yet, if the world is producing just one extra barrel the price goes down. So, we do have some interesting times coming up in oil. We really like the idea of selling calls above this market for the next 6-month time frame. As you know, there are never any sure things, but we really like the idea of selling oil calls some 20-30% above the peak that they hit in summer as we go into the fall low-demand season.
Michael: Okay. Yeah, a lot of people that listen to this or maybe watch some of our things think that to sell this we have to have oil prices go down to make money. While we think that possibly could happen, that doesn’t necessarily have to happen for an option selling strategy to be successful. James, just one more thing I wanted to throw out here, you were talking about supply levels and I pulled up some stats here while we were talking. You made a good point that supplies you’re down this year over last year, about 5.3% below where they were last year at this time, but we were at record levels last year. Even at current supply, we’re still 22% above the 5-year average. We’re certainly still in a burdensome supply situation as far as that goes. As we head into the winter months here, you’re talking about particular strategies, do you like selling naked here? When you look at it, is there a strategy that you could put together for a spread? I know we do a number of different things in our managed accounts, but maybe just for the individual investor listening… any advice for those guys?
James: You know, Michael, I think some of our listeners actually take positions on our discussion, and other listeners are probably learning about selling options possibly on their own for the first time. Just as a pure speculative position for a listener is to simply take a look at selling calls, and I would say naked calls yes. Certainly we do have spread analysis we do as well in positions that we take that are covered. With oil trading around 48 and, in my opinion, probably going down to the low 40’s over the next 2-3 months, I would sell calls in the $64, $65, $66 level going out, say, 6-9 months or so. The conversation about selling naked options, I think they use that word for a reason to scare people away from doing it, but people who take a short position on oil at 48, they may have to sit with that position for a while and it may jostle around above and below their entry level. Selling calls at $65 is some 30-35% above the summer highs that we’re hitting. We’re doing it using timing, using seasonal factors, when oil will likely get down to the low 40’s, and think of how far out-of-the-money you are at that point. I would simply sell mid-60 crude oil calls and put a stop-loss on it that you’re comfortable with. Something tells me that somewhere between Thanksgiving and the holiday season that option is going to be worth about 10% of what you sold it for. We’ll have to wait and see, that’s what makes a market. That’s how we would invest in crude oil going through the rest of the year.
Michael: Okay. That naked term, I think, scares a lot of stock options sellers, too, because they’re used to selling 1 and 2 strikes out-of-the-money. Of course, in commodities, we can sell much deeper out-of-the-money. We’re going to talk a little bit deeper about that later. What you’re talking about is we’re taking a position above where the price was at the highest demand point in the year and we’re taking that position heading into the lowest demand point of the year. So, those are certainly the type of odds you look for and, hopefully, if you’re listening you picked up on what James was saying and how you might go about that. If you would like to learn more and get a little bit more analysis of the crude oil market, we will be featuring in our upcoming September Option Seller Newsletter. That comes out on or around September 1st. You’ll get that in your e-mail box and, of course, a hard copy as well if you’re on our subscriber list. If you’re not a subscriber and you’re a high net-worth investor, you can subscribe on our website – optionsellers.com/newsletter. James, why don’t’ we go ahead and move into our second market here. Something you featured earlier in the month but it’s an ongoing opportunity, we feel, and that’s the coffee market. We’re rapping up the Brazilian harvest. Of course, Brazil, the largest producer of coffee in the world, and thus events in that country can have a major impact on prices. I know you’ve been following this pretty closely, James. Do you want to give kind of a summary of what’s going on in the ground of Brazil?
James: Michael, some of the most ideal growing and weather conditions are happening right now in the southern hemisphere. Brazil, of course, was basically one large forest. Whether some people like it or not, the forest was cut down and coffee, sugar, cocoa, and soybeans were all planted in their place. That rainforest is just one incredible farm that feeds the world. What’s happening right now in Brazil is practically ideal conditions for productions of, especially, coffee. Coffee acreage is absolutely giant in Brazil. It’s a very large portion, especially of their mountainous regions. We have 2 cycles in coffee. One is an off-cycle and one is an on. The off-cycle obviously produces slightly less coffee than does the on-cycle. It’s basically the tree taking a rest for 12 months and then it produces the large amount again. Basically, the world is absolutely full of coffee at this point, both in Vietnam and Brazil and here in the United States. The U.S. has the largest green coffee stocks ever since they’ve been counting coffee stocks here in the United States. Also at a time when weather conditions in Brazil are absolutely ideal, we’re looking at practically perfect growing conditions for coffee in Brazil. We’re going into flowering season, which is going to start in September and go through November. If, in fact, the precipitation that has been going extremely well in Brazil is expected to continue through the rest of the year, we’re probably going to be seeing record crop production for coffee beans in Brazil next year. Basically, that entails all the fundamentals that we need to know for the entire year. Consumption stays the same- it’s always up about 1% a year. Production the next year is going to be a large surplus. It’s setting up absolutely ideal in selling options for coffee.
Michael: Yeah, I saw some of the estimates. The market looks forward here- we are in 2017 but these are the futures markets. Futures look into the future. These markets are now starting to price the new crop, the crop that beans will be on the market in 2018. For 2018, as you mentioned, James, it’s a potentially record harvest. I know we had discussed there are some estimates- 58-62 million bags of coffee, which would just be gigantic. That would be an all-time record. As the market prices that, we could be in for some lower prices. I know you’re certainly looking for some prices to mitigate here as we head into our winter. Let’s talk a little bit about the seasonal since we are talking about seasonals this month. We’re pretty much at the end of the Brazilian harvest for 2017 the crop. I think as of August 1st we were about 80% done. I’m sure we’re closer to that now. What tends to happen with the seasonal price? I see we go down a little bit into the fall, then there’s a little rally in October, and after October it seems to just really fall off. What happens then?
James: Michael, I think what seems to happen is investors, both speculating in coffee and users, otherwise known as commercials, they will take long positions going into flowering season. So, basically it’s not exactly a tree that coffee grows on, it’s more of a very large bush. What happens starting in October is the bush is expecting rain to develop, and then it flowers, and each flower, of course, turns into a cherry. If we have steady rainfall starting in September, a bush will flower some 3-4 times, which makes a huge difference during this time frame as opposed to if we have very small amounts of rain and then the bush only flowers possibly 2 times. Simply doing the math, you can see how important this time frame is. That is why the coffee market will start rallying in October as investors and end users want to guarantee themselves coffee prices at a certain level. Should precipitation then be ample through October, November, and the beginning of December, basically the fundamental analysis for the entire year at that point is over. So unlike waiting for monthly reports or quarterly reports out of a company that sells widgets, the production of coffee is then set in gear for the next 9 months, waiting for harvest to begin again. So, we have a rally that starts in September, it goes on through flowering season, as the weather cooperates, and all models right now are showing me that it will again this year, the price goes back down. The seasonal factors are the market falls in September. As we have harvest pressure, then we start getting a rally in September, October, and November, and then we look to sell probably very expensive call options in coffee, once again. We are bearish on the price of coffee, we are record supplies in the United States, we are going to have record supplies in Brazil, and anyone who is wondering what 60 million bags means, 6 times what is produced in the country of Columbia is what 60 million bags turns out to be. Certainly there’s no shortage of coffee over the next year or two.
Michael: That’ll be good news for those of our listeners that enjoy a cup in the morning.
Michael: Now James, you’ve been a proponent of selling calls in coffee most of the year now. We’ve made no secret of that. You’ve had several articles, you’ve talked to Reuters, and the whole time you’ve been moderate to bearish, but just thinking it’s continuing to sell calls is a great way to pull income out of this market, and that’s because it simply has some strong fundamentals. We don’t know if it’s going up or down tomorrow, but overall we feel there should be a price cap on prices that keeps it under certain levels. As a call seller, that’s all you really need. Now, I know you’ve been selling these and have been talking about selling them in your articles. Do you think that we’re at a point right now where you sell them or do you think since we’re heading into flowering season the better opportunity may be a few weeks or months down the road?
James: Michael, as they say on TV, “That’s an excellent question”. We’ve been selling coffee calls practically all year. The coffee market has recently fallen some 15-20 cents over the last week or two, which has basically cut our calls in half in a very short period of time. I would hold off on any additional sales. We’re going to look at taking profits on our positions over the next 4 weeks or so. As listeners and people who follow along, one of the best things that could possibly happen is have a bit of a dry weather concern in the month of October. That could get prices back up another 10-20 cents that they had given back recently. I would then look to lay out coffee calls with both hands. The really interesting part about dry conditions in Brazil, if it’s just slightly drier than the farmers there would like, it’s going to likely make a difference of 1-2 million bags. When you’re talking about a 60 or 62 million bag crop that is just a drop in the bucket. Hopefully we have a little bit of weather concerns at the beginning of flowering season, get about a 15-20 cent rally on coffee, and I would be back to putting on my tuxedo and jumping back in on the short side.
Michael: For those of you that would like to read more about how you can use seasonals or apply them in commodity option selling, I do recommend out book The Complete Guide to Option Selling: Third Edition. That will really lay it out for you and give you some of the key markets and key seasonals you can use in these markets. If you don’t have a copy yet, you can get it at a discount on our website – that’s optionsellers.com/book. James, we’re going to go into our lesson right now and I’m sure this is probably something anyone who has been reading or listening to us for any period of time is familiar with, but it never gets old. It’s something that bears repeating over and over. It’s something we call going deep, which is really a reference to selling deep, deep out-of-the-money calls. It’s done with a little more time on them and it’s a strategy that you’ve adhered to for some time. The common wisdom is when you’re selling options you sell them for 30 days out because you get the fastest decay, but you subscribe to the opposite theory. I think we’ve both found that when you’re trading fundamentally or seasonally, as we’ve discussed now, it’s almost optimally designed for that. Can you talk a little bit about the benefits of selling that far out and what we have to do to get there?
James: Michael, it is so interesting. When you and I first discovered writing premium as an investment for clients, we were subscribing to the same ideas… 30, 60, 90 days out- that’s where the large decay is, that’s where the large curve is. Certainly, we had success doing that; however, in this day and age of computer driven buying and computer driven selling, against what the fundamentals might dictate that prices should do, we do sell options in commodities 6, 9, and even 12 months out. People who have sold options on their own would say to themselves or write the question to us, “That certainly gives you a lot of time for the market to be wrong”. My really easy answer is that it gives us a lot of time for our prediction to be right. Basically, technical factors can move the market for 30 or 60 days, whether the fundamentals had changed in that favor or not. What fundamentals won’t allow the market to do is make a 40, 50, or 60% move. So, the investors that are trading, selling options on a 30-60 day idea, and certainly they might be very successful in doing that, what we don’t want to have happen is have a technical move in a market with no fundamental market change and us get stopped out. We are paid to wait. Most investors have a very difficult time doing that. When you know what the fundamentals are, waiting is quite easy and, as a matter of fact, waiting is fun because you’ll see technical buying or selling in gold, coffee, or oil all the time. Yet, it’s not reaching ever a 50% move; however, it does make the news and it makes options expensive. That’s just the way we like it.
Michael: That’s some really good points you brought up there. It reminds me of a story of why we started doing this in the first place. For investors listening that have sold close-to-the-money options, you know it requires a lot of effort and babysitting. What James is talking about, going further out in time, allowing you to sell much deeper out-of-the-money, not as concerned about those short-term random swings, higher odds. Probably one of the most overlooked benefits is lower stress, both to the investor and the trader. James, I know many people might not know that you and I, when we first started out, were retail brokers. So, about 20 years ago when we first started working together, we were brokers and we were making these trade recommendation to people and we were trading options 30, 60, 90 days out. A lot of the time, they did very well and they were very successful, but it was a high maintenance type of trading. You and I would be on the phone all day because people would be calling in and we’d be changing orders and changing positions and writing new because the market was moving and the options were always moving. When we switched to the strategy of selling deep out-of-the-money options, once that conversion was done, it was crickets. There was nobody on the phone and there was no reason to call. So, it was a lower stress for the trader, but as an investor, I don’t want to say you never have to watch it if you’re managing your own account, but certainly it’s a lot less maintenance than it is if you’re trading those short-term options. It’s almost like day trading, wouldn’t you think?
James: Michael, I remember making that switch to much further out dated options. It’s so funny you bring this up. We did get one or two phone calls, and I remember one, it was from one of our favorite clients. He said, “James, I just love selling options this way because I’m such a bad trader.” Once you get that mindset, that you’re no longer gambling, you’re no longer betting on the spin of the wheel or the roll of the dice, when you’re actually taking fundamental analysis, if you possess it, and turning that into an investment, this is just a great alternative to what some mainstream investments are. Taking long-term views, treating this as an investment, once you made that switch, I know how it was for us, I would never trade a futures contract again. Selling options on commodities this far out based on fundamentals does give you the patience to wait. Let’s face it, that’s what the big money does and, U.S. listeners, that’s where you want to be, too.
Michael: It’s hard to put a price on sleeping at night. I think that’s a good place to wrap it up this month. Obviously, these days, James and I offer fully managed portfolios. If you’re interested in a new account with us, I’m just looking at the sheet here, it looks like we are fully booked for September; however, Rosemary is currently booking interviews now for October openings. So, if you are interested in exploring the possibility of a managed account, you can certainly call her at the main number. That’s 800-346-1949. If you’re calling from outside the United States, the number is 813-472-5760. You can also contact her via e-mail. That is firstname.lastname@example.org. She will schedule you with a free consultation interview to find out more about our accounts. Obviously our recommended opening account is U.S. 1 million. Rosemary can certainly provide you with other details on the accounts, as well. James, thank you for your insights this month.
James: Michael, always my pleasure. I just love chatting about what we do.
Michael: Great. For all you listeners, have a great month of option selling. We will talk to you again in September. Thank you.